Shipped Home

December 20th, 1980, 11am

Each breath was a clattering sigh now. At least that’s what he imagined. He was so far removed from his body that its decomposing mass was mainly a second thought. Even if he’d tried to struggle beyond the intravenous concoctions, unfamiliar incompetencies, the searing, embarrassing indignity of it all, it’s doubtful he could have connected properly anyway. Not now. Not in his current state. Not with everything accellerating away at pace.

No, he thought, better to rest on the sidelines, back to play. A few more days - hours even (and please God let them be hours or days, not weeks or months, not in this state, not with these horrified eyes watching him. He could handle his fate just fine, but the unbridled fear of his full-grown offspring was another thing. They wouldn’t even let him see his grand children.)

In more lucid moments he realised he had never been overly conscious of his breathing anyway, nor the involuntary mechanics behind it. Sure, some imperative might force awareness (pushing an obstinate donkey up a hill, say) or when he smoked, (which, despite his current malignant state, he didn’t do often). But otherwise, it just happened. In and out. Up and down. Over and over. And now that it was about to otherwise not happen, he was kind of amazed at the miracle it turned out to be.

A subtle draft rocked the curtain as a nurse came in to check the machines. He wished he could turn his head, keep her in sight, relieve the bland, unchanging white of the ceiling and wall draping his vision. But moving his neck, even paning his eyes now was also a thing of the past. So many things to lose in life. For it to all end here.

And all the worry, stress, confusion, etcetera. Hours and hours ruminating over the best path for the best future, his Italian pension, the family arguments. Easy in hindsight to weave the progression into a story for people to nod their heads at, grunt with recognition towards, preempt the final act. It didn’t feel like Pirandello to him - then or now. Or those Westerns he used to love. No dramatic coral shoot out this time. Just a vigil to a withering.

So what was worse? The cancer putrifying his flesh, or the way his life would be claimed as a tragedy (obviously) by those around him. His wife would wear black for the rest of her life. His daughters would frame his face on the sideboard. He would, to his descendents, eventually be forgotten. And now that everyone was settled here, in this far-flung country, with too much bush and too much beer, there was no way they were doing the one thing he wanted, to send his casket home.

Foreign soil. It was only ever supposed to be temporary. Fertile, but never his. On the 10th floor of this ugly brown monolith. Gasping for air. For it to all end here.

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Carla D

I'm a European Australian. Weltschmerz is a family legacy, but I know how to surf. I like to take photos and tell stories.

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